Spectre of coalition still hangs over Lib Dems nine years on

The Liberal Democrats started this election campaign with high hopes and optimism.

They insisted their party was fighting for a majority to revoke Article 50, claim the £50 billion “Remain bonus” and put Jo Swinson into Downing Street.

But an agreement made nine years ago between two long-departed leaders could be their undoing.

General Election 2019
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson is confronted by Jay Sutherland while on the General Election campaign trail in Glasgow (Aaron Chown/PA)

On a campaign visit to Glasgow, Ms Swinson was approached by Jay Sutherland, a student at Strathclyde University who reprimanded Ms Swinson for her part in a coalition that nearly reduced her party to political oblivion in 2015.

Mr Sutherland said Glasgow had been hit hardest by austerity wrought by the Conservatives and their Lib Dem partners, branding the coalition “unforgivable”.

He told her the impact of austerity on Glasgow “breaks my heart”.

The Lib Dem leader has been castigated several times during the campaign – in a youth centre, on the street and even by BBC interviewer Andrew Neil about her personal involvement in the 2010-2015 pact.

General Election 2019
Willie Rennie insisted ‘lessons had been learned’ from time in coalition (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie accepts people still have problems regarding the coalition workings of the party, which walked back on an election promise to scrap tuition fees.

He told the PA news agency “lessons had been learned” from the five years spent in Government, adding: “There were some things we did right and some things we did wrong.”

The coalition pressure refused to let up as Rennie took to the stage for an STV debate between the Scottish party leaders.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Mr Rennie he should be “ashamed” of his party and “apologise” to the people of Scotland for the effect of austerity and Liberal Democrat complicity.

As the election dragged on, the poll numbers for his party dropped, with voters moving to the Labour Party as the spectre of coalition lingered.

According to a survey by YouGov for the Times and analysed by polling expert John Curtice on December 6, the Lib Dems are expected to remain on four seats after December 12.

As the poll numbers stagnated, the previously stark and forthright message of the Lib Dems became muddied, despite insistence to the contrary.

While “Stop Brexit” initially meant the unilateral revocation of a Article 50, the position was softened to a continuation of the campaign for a People’s Vote.

The insistence Jo Swinson could be Prime Minister, which would involve a swing of more than 300 seats towards her party, was pared back.

General Election 2019
The SNP’s Westminster leader is in the crosshairs of the Liberal Democrats ahead of election day (Isabel Infantes/PA)

In the final week of the campaign, the party focused on seats it can viably win, with SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford firmly in the crosshairs in a constituency where he enjoys a majority of nearly 6,000, a gamble which – should it pay off – could be the scalp of the election.

Ms Swinson identified Mr Blackford’s Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat as a potential victory for the party when speaking to journalists, as well as North East Fife, an SNP marginal where the Lib Dems were just two votes behind  Stephen Gethins in 2017.

Despite a surge in the European Parliament elections earlier this year bringing  optimism flooding into the party, as it had in 2010, this election could prove to be a momentum buster if the polls are proved to be correct.

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